By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Tonight I want to focus on only two topics: First, the utterly supine nature of the AFL-CIO as led by Richard Trumka.* Obama can’t armwrestle Putin, and Obama couldn’t consummate his bromance with Larry Summers by installing Summers at the Fed. But by gawd, Obama can still whip Big Labor into line! Here’s the backstory from [sigh] Ezra Klein:
A particular issue of contention has been so-called “Taft-Hartley plans” — multi-employer health-care plans that unions run, and that aren’t eligible for subsidies under the terms of the Affordable Care Act. The plans cover about 20 million Americans, and the government treats them as employer-based health-care plans for tax purposes. A recent letter signed by the powerful Teamster, UNITE-HERE, and UFCW unions warned that “under the ACA as interpreted by the Administration, our employees will be treated differently and not be eligible for subsidies afforded other citizens.”
Ah! A “strongly worded letter”! Continuing:
“As such, many employees will be relegated to second-class status and shut out of the help the law offers to for-profit insurance plans.”
That’s not a bug. It’s a feature.
The unions argue this will decimate membership in their plans as employers dump union workers onto public exchanges.
And that’s not a bug, either. It’s a feature. So of course the administrations stiffs them:
Tonight, the effort failed. A senior administration official tells me that the administration “ for individuals in multiemployer group health plans to receive individual market tax credits as well as the favorable tax treatment associated with employer-provided health insurance at the same time.” A Treasury Department letter is being released that lays out the administration’s reasoning in more detail.
Come on. Since when did this administration ever care about the rule of law? Obama’s perfectly happy not to enforce the employer mandate, for example. Or delay limits on out-of-pocket expenses because health insurance companies didn’t reprogram their systems. Or give Congressional staffers special treatment. We’re seeing the administration bending or breaking the law for constituency after constituency, so when the unions ask for the same kind of deal on behalf of their 20 million members, what happens? Suddenly, everything is strictly by the book! So here’s what happened at last week’s AFL-CIO national convention. Faced with this threat to their membership, what does the AFL-CIO do? Talk softly and carry a soft stick:
One of the most interesting aspects of this story is what happened behind the scenes. Some unions were agitating for the AFL-CIO to pass a resolution calling for the repeal of Obamacare. President Obama personally intervened to prevent that from happening. At the end of the week, once the AFL-CIO’s quadrennial convention was over, the Obama administration announced that it wouldn’t heed labor’s concerns. Politically speaking, the President won, and the unions lost. … [I]ncreasing calls for Obamacare’s repeal from Democrats’ staunchest allies … spooked the White House, on the eve of the AFL-CIO’s quadrennial convention in Los Angeles. … Wednesday was the last day of the AFL-CIO convention, and the President could evade a politically embarrassing debacle by simply stalling the rumored resolution. … The President’s team swung into action. “White House officials have been calling union leaders about a resolution critical of Obamacare that is set to pass on Wednesday at the AFL-CIO convention,” he reported last week. “Union leaders have been tight-lipped about the calls coming from Washington, but at least one labor official said he understands that the Obama administration has been watching the resolution’s progress and expressing a desire that it not move forward.”**
Wowsers. There are certainly many people more knowledgeable about union politics than I am, so maybe I’m being overly simplistic. But IMNSHO, if you can’t appeal to Obama’s greed, you’ve got to work on his fear. That’s what the gay bundlers and Hispanics did before election 2012, and at least they came away with something, while the more docile environmentalists got nothing. If the AFL-CIO had passed a resolution calling for ObamaCare’s repeal and its replacement by single payer, you can bet they’d be in a stronger position to protect their members.
I mean, come on. SEIU, not in the AFL-CIO, sold themselves to Obama back in 2009-2010 (and funded front groups and “progressive” bloggers to suck away all the oxygen from single payer, too). And sure, they helped put in place a rotten public policy that leaves millions without coverage even when fully implemented, can’t control costs, and reinforces the dominance of completely parasitical health insurance companies. But at least they got a million in walking around money from Covered California! What did AFL-CIO win for their members?
And, oh yeah. When Obama said: “If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan” he was lying. Maybe 20 million union members didn’t know that. But now they do.
And then — second — there’s this. Something I didn’t have a word for, and had to ask for help with. You know how when (say) you start a relationship and it turns out there are more entities in the relationship than you thought there were going to be? Like the sheepdog who has to sleep in the same bed, or the mother who’s always in the back seat, or the eight drinking buddies, plus the dealer and the parole officer? I could get more vivid, but you see what I mean. In a lot of ways, ObamaCare is like one of those relationships, because it’s not a clean, simple relationship, just you and the Exchange website plus the Chat line plus the Navigator plus the Call Center plus the online forums to figure out what’s going on. Nothing so simple, because when it comes time to enter your data, you’ve got the IRS and the DHS and the credit reporting agencies and the Peace Corps and maybe (heaven forfend) the state Medicaid office. But wait! There’s more! Wellness programs. Get a load of this:
Under Penn State’s new employee wellness program, a health risk assessment questionnaire asks female employees if they plan to get pregnant in the next year. If the employee doesn’t want to disclose that and opts out of completing the assessment, she’ll incur a $100 fee each month. That’s $1,200 over the course of the year.
If you’re some poor wage slave of an adjunct, that’s a huge chunk of change.
But it gets better, because it turns out — this is the eight drinking buddies part — that this extremely personal information is to be shared with a third, profit-making party:
The faculty members’ remarks centered on whether the plan is too invasive by requiring them to provide medical information on the health risk assessment to a third party company, WebMD, and whether the information in databases will be vulnerable to online hackers.
The point about disclosing on the health risk assessment a planned pregnancy was raised by Maria Truglio, an associate professor of Italian in the College of Liberal Arts.
“Is it appropriate that women who refuse to disclose their reproductive plans are fined $100 a month?” said Truglio, whose remark was followed by applause and cheers.
Kim Blockett, an associate English professor at the Brandywine campus, said that kind of information doesn’t belong with an insurance company.
“For me, discussing my reproductive plans with an unknown entity at an insurance company does not constitute ‘private,’ ” she said. “Certainly, I understand the health benefits and the necessity of having that conversation, as part of a larger context, with my physician. That makes sense to me, not my insurance company.”
And the beauty part? The health benefits of so-called wellness plans are at best heavily contested:
The [RAND] study, sponsored by the Labor department and Health and Human Services, found that these programs, designed to save employers money by financially incentivizing healthy behaviors among their workers, don’t do either job particularly well. Generally, improvements in health and their subsequent cost savings were modest and, in most cases, not statistically significant. It also found that employers are likely unaware of these findings, because they are not evaluating their own programs for success. The RAND report suggests that there’s a lot of work yet to be done to evaluate their results. Until the programs are proved be successful, reporters might do well to skip the anecdotes of workplace wellness program success.
However, to be fair, wellness programs do provide yet another site for rentiers to sink their sucking mandibles into. (Even if individual records are private, can the results that WebMD is collected be anonymized, aggregated, and sold to a fourth party? I can imagine plenty of firms who would like to know exactly how many planned pregancies there are likely to be at the university of Pennsylvania; and whether the administration will get a cut when that data is sold. The faculty might consider looking into those angles.) Back to Penn State:
[David Gray, the senior vice president for finance and business] said Penn State’s adoption of a wellness program may seem unique now, but he predicted it’d be commonplace among colleges and universities across the country in a couple years. [Human resources administrator Susan] Basso said Ohio State University and the University of Virginia are rolling out similar programs.
Oh, great. Anyhow, the phrase Yves came up with — the sheepdog in bed, the dealer, and the parole officer part — is “non-consensual entanglement.” I think that fits the case perfectly. Certainly being fined $100 for not telling your insurance company you plan to get pregnant is “non-consensual.” And “entanglement” is perfect as well, since it captures the sense of being trapped in a net from which one is not able to escape. I’m sure that as we all become better acquainted with ObamaCare, many more non-consensual entanglements will emerge.***
NOTE * Not to say that all unions are supine. The National Nurses Union is very strong on single payer. Many locals are strong. Some unions are strong. But the national office in Washington? Forget it!
NOTE ** Bonus quote:
[A] senior administration official told Politico: “The President expressed in the meeting [with the Unions] that he wakes up every day thinking about how to help working Americans and build the middle class.”
And somebody didn’t punch a hole in a wall when they heard that bullshit?